“Diabetes,” says Baroness Young, chief executive of Diabetes U.K., “is becoming a crisis. It’s big, it’s scary, it’s growing and it’s very, very expensive. It’s clearly an epidemic, and it could bring the health service to its knees. Something really does need to happen.”
Diabetes is fast becoming the U.K.’s major public-health concern in the twenty-first century. The condition is now nearly four times as common as all forms of cancer combined, and it causes more deaths than breast and prostate cancers combined. A staggering 10.5 percent of New York City adults, or close to 650,000, have been diagnosed with diabetes – more than double the rate of the life-shortening disease a generation ago. It is Mexico’s number-one killer, claiming about 70,000 lives a year, far more than drug-cartel and gang violence, which is also high. Nearly one third of Pacific Islanders have diabetes, as does more than a quarter of the adult population in Saudi Arabia. In Vietnam, it used to be land mines that claimed the feet and limbs of its people; now it is diabetes.
The Bermuda Diabetes Epidemiology Project of 1996 showed that 11 percent of the population had diabetes. If we compare ourselves to other countries with similar populations, we could be looking at more than 25 percent of the Bermuda population with diabetes.
What Is Diabetes?
Diabetes means too much sugar in the blood. There is more than one type of diabetes, but all types of diabetes have one thing in common: too much sugar in the blood. A normal blood sugar is 70 to 130mg/dl, meaning that people who do not have diabetes have a fasting blood sugar in the 70 to 100mg/dl range and two hours after a meal of less than 130mg/dl. A diagnosis is made on either a fasting blood sugar higher than 126mg/dl or a 2-hour blood sugar higher than 200mg/dl.
Many people are at risk of developing diabetes and have higher-than-normal blood sugars. Years ago, little attention was paid to the at-risk group, but today we know that higher-than-normal blood sugars are an underlying cause of heart disease.
Type 1 diabetes is the least common of all types of diabetes despite being around for thousands of years. People with type 1 diabetes no longer make insulin, a hormone made in the pancreas that transports the food we eat from the blood stream into the muscle and fat cells. We still do not understand completely what causes type 1 diabetes, and at the moment we cannot prevent it. Before insulin was discovered in 1921, people with type 1 diabetes starved to death, because without insulin they could not use the food they were eating.
In type 2 diabetes, the pancreas still makes insulin but the insulin does not work properly. Often people with type 2 diabetes are overweight, but with increased physical activity, a change in eating habits and weight loss, type 2 diabetes can be controlled. If people who are in the at-risk group make changes to their lifestyle, they can often prevent developing type 2 diabetes.
Gestational diabetes occurs in some women when they are pregnant. In most cases, gestational diabetes disappears once the baby is born; however, having gestational diabetes raises alarm bells: this woman is at risk of developing diabetes later in life, and she should start following an exercise plan and eating healthy foods to prevent diabetes.
In the 1970s, there were about 30 million people in the world with diabetes. Today that figure has grown to more than 377 million! It is an epidemic that has the potential to cripple healthcare budgets in every corner of the globe. No race or ethnic group is immune. Why the huge and rapid increase? Lifestyle! Today people are eating fast foods and consuming large quantities of sugary drinks. The American Heart Association tells us that a woman should have no more than six teaspoons of added sugar a day, and a man no more than nine teaspoons of added sugar a day. One soda contains 10 teaspoons of added sugar. Grabbing a bite from a fast-food restaurant is the norm today rather than the occasional fall from grace, and everyone has an excuse for not exercising: it is too hot, too cold, too dark with too many dogs and not enough street lights.
Why should we be concerned? Uncontrolled diabetes damages the blood vessels that supply food and oxygen to important organs like the heart, kidneys and eyes as well as nerves. To protect these organs, it is necessary to aim for good control of blood sugars through regular physical activity and eating healthy foods. By being healthy, you can lower your risk of developing diabetes.
When it comes to your risk of developing type 2 diabetes, a lot depends on where you put on weight. Are you an apple or a pear? If you carry weight around your tummy – apple-shaped – the level of fat in your blood stream is likely to be higher than that of people with excess weight on their hips (pear-shaped). The waistline matters. A woman with a waist of greater than 35 inches and a man with a waist greater than 40 inches are at risk of diabetes and heart disease. The fat that is around the stomach is called visceral fat and can cause some serious health problems such as:
- High blood pressure. People with bigger waists are more prone to developing high blood pressure, which in turn increases the risk of heart attacks and strokes.
- Elevated levels of cholesterol and triglycerides, which raise the risk for heart disease and strokes.
- Elevated levels of insulin, which cause insulin resistance leading to type 2 diabetes.
- Shortness of breath, as a larger-than-normal waist makes it harder to breathe deeply.
In addition, being overweight can affect the following:
- Comfort, as a larger-than-normal waist makes it harder to do things like bend over, sit behind the wheel of a car or sit comfortably in an airplane seat.
- Buying larger than normal clothes.
- Feeling tired, as carrying extra weight can be draining.
- Aches and pains, as the extra weight around the middle can put undue strain on abdominal muscles and joints.
- Feeling a lack of confidence, as being overweight can make you feel unattractive.
- So what are you waiting for? Get up and get moving. Start that exercise program. Drink water, cut out sugary drinks and eat healthy foods..